The Scent of Blue - a Poem about Perfume

Well, it's about much more than perfume, but I suspect a few people may identify with that aspect of it! I haven't consciously written poems for years, although I once published quite a lot of them, including a collection called A Book of Men, that won a 'new writing' award from the Arts Council. I used to do readings, as well. Enjoyed performing. Then the plays and the prose took over. The plays in particular seemed to use that part of my creativity that had inspired the poems and they just didn't come any more. Now every writer knows that if you wait for inspiration to strike, you'll never produce anything. And it's true that you can make yourself sit down and write prose, and plays. But I couldn't make myself write poems.

For a long while, every new poem I attempted seemed like cliched, stilted nonsense. Nothing worked.

So I wrote stories, plays, novels, non fiction. But not poetry.

Then, quite recently, a strange thing started to happen. The plays in particular became more and more like poems. The director who worked on The Price of a Fish Supper told me that she was reluctant to ask me to cut anything, because it was all linked so intricately together.

Now, each play I write tends towards poetry. Is this good or bad? I don't know.

A day or two ago, I got out an old folder of unpublished poems. Usually, that's a salutory experience. Going back, I mean. Novels that you once thought were brilliant, fall apart before your very eyes. Plays wither on the page.

But not the poems. I could swear that the poems are still good. It was like finding an old bottle of whisky in a shipwreck and discovering that it still tasted of itself.

And then I wrote something new. I wrote the Scent of Blue.
I'm not sure quite what it is, but I think it's probably a long poem.
There are still a dozen novels, and other books, lurking in my head, crying out to be written. There are still ideas which only seem to present themselves as plays.
But for some strange reason, ideas for poems are also elbowing their way in, demanding to be heard.
Perhaps it's a leap of inspiration.
Perhaps it's yet another red herring.
Perhaps it's just something else I have to explore.
But here it is. And I reserve the right to change it, or delete it altogether, because I think it may be part of a work in progress. Judge for yourself.


A concert in Edinburgh, years ago.
She manages to find a single seat.
Two people sweep past, ushered by the
front of house manager in his dark suit.
He's a famous conductor,
silver haired, sharp featured like some
bird of prey, but smaller than you would
expect, in evening dress.
On his arm a thin woman,
taller than he is, strides with
striking face and hair, a cloud of
grey blonde curls around her head.
Not a young woman but a
diva surely, inhabiting her clothes,
inhabiting her skin with such confidence.
She wants to be like that some day,
longs for self possession.
And she remembers the scent of her,
musky, mysterious, a heavy, night time
scent, like flowers after dark.
The scent of passion.
The scent of money.
The scent of blue.

She searches for the scent for years.
Her mother wore Tweed.
Now she wishes she could
open a wardrobe door, and
smell her mother’s plain sweet scent,
almost as much as she
wishes she could tell her mother so.

As a girl, she wears Bluebell,
fresh and full of hope, or
Diorissimo, like the lilac she once
carried through the streets,
on her way from meeting a man
she desired and admired, thinking
Girl with Lilac, still so young,
self conscious, not possessed.

Later, she tries l’Air du Temps and
Je Reviens and Fleurs de Rocaille
but they are none of them the scent of blue.
She wears Chanel, briefly, with dreams of Marilyn,
loves to watch her, loves to hear her voice,
satisfying as chocolate or olives but
Number Five is not her scent, never suits her, never will.

She discovers Mitsouko.
Some tester in some chemist’s shop somewhere.
An old, old fashioned scent,
syncopated, unexpected, not to every taste.
When she wears it,
women ask her what it is,
I love your scent they say.
How strange the way scent lingers in the mind.
How strange the way scent
changes on warm skin.
On her it ripens to something
peachy, mossy, rich and rare.
But it is not the scent of blue.

She loses her heart.
It is an affair of telephone lines,
more profound, more sweet and
bitter than Mitsouko,
a sad song in the dark,
and the colour of that time is blue.

Afterwards, she searches through
Bellodgia, Apres L’Ondee, Nuit de Noel, Apercu
Until drawn by nostalgia
She finds Joy,
dearly bought roses and jasmine,
a summer garden in one small bottle.
She loves Joy.
She marries in Joy.
She wears Mitsouko
and she forgets the scent of blue.

Older, she glances in her mirror and only
sometimes likes what she sees.
She finds Arpege,
not just rose and jasmine but
bergamot, orange blossom, peach, vanilla, ylang ylang,
one essence piled on another like the notes on the piano she
used to, sometimes still does, play.
Oh this is not a scent for the very young.
It is too dark for that,
a memory of something lost,
an unfinished story.
This scent has a past.

She sees him across a room.
Another woman ushers him,
this way and that, makes introductions,
a little charmed the way women
always were charmed by this man.
It used to make her smile the way
women flocked around this
man who belonged to
nobody but himself.

She is wearing Arpege.
Not a scent for the very young,
vertiginous as the layers of time between.
With age comes wisdom,
but like mud stirred at the bottom of a pool,
memories bubble to the surface.
Not wisely but too well they loved.
Now, they are waving across a
chasm of years.
They speak in measured tones,
they speak and walk away,
they speak again in careful words, that
every now and then
recall the scent of

It will not do.
Only in dreams
can one innocently recapture that
first fine careless

So much more is forgotten
Than is ever remembered.
And the clock insists
let it be let it be.

One summer evening
a young man observes the way twilight closes the flowers,
whose scent lingers on the last heat of the day,
the way the light goes out of the sky,
painting it dark blue, how
soon the war will tear this place apart.
How soon all things resort to sadness.

In a new century,
She finds among jasmine and rose
vanilla and violet,
a dark twist of anise, like the
twist of a knife.
First last always.
The scent of the diva.
The scent of passion.
Fine beyond imagining.
She sees it is essentially
sad, sad, sad, a
sad scent:
L’Heure Bleue.
All things come to sadness in the end.
The beautiful bitter foolish scent of blue.

Catherine Czerkawska


fr_jude said…
Catherine: words and scents and memories. I will dwell in this poem for some time. Thanks. FJx
Anonymous said…
i liked your poem so much Actually I cant live without perfume, to me it’s a synonym for oxygen... i hope that you write more poems about perfume
and i liked the Conversations that were going on in the poem...
i feel that you are a friendly person, full of emotions
+ i have a question r you a czech or atleast have some origins related to the czechs.
Anonymous said…
i liked your poem so much Actually I cant live without perfume, to me it’s a synonym for oxygen... i hope that you write more poems about perfume
and i liked the Conversations that were going on in the poem...
i feel that you are a friendly person and may i ask a question:
r u a czech or do you have any origins related to czechs.

thank you for sharing the poem and bye...

ljw said…
i just bought a bottle of perfume for my secret pal i bought her a scent i love and hope she will i thought it would be nice to include a short poem about perfume with my gift so i googled perfume and poem and found yours i love thie poem i almost want to just keep it for me and not share it but i will it is beautiful and as i am now 57 years old i have gone through those kind of changes with my scents alos thanks for putting words to my feelings ljw